Paradoxes of Leading and Following: lessons from Trump and Brexit

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By Professor Richard Bolden.

For anyone who believes that leadership and management are rational processes, where the most skilled and experienced leaders will succeed and the best strategies and plans are implemented, the events of 2016 will come as a surprise.

In the last few months the UK Referendum on membership of the European Union and the US Presidential Election have proven the vast majority of experts and pundits wrong. These have been described as ‘black swan’ events that push us to fundamentally reassess the basis on which we make judgements of what is and isn’t possible.

How is it that a ragtag group of politicians, promoting evidence that members of their own campaign team described as patently wrong[1], could mobilise the British public to vote to leave their most significant economic and cultural partnership? How is it that arguably the least qualified candidate in US electoral history, whose words and actions alienated large parts of both the electorate and his own party, defeated one of the most qualified and experienced?

To begin to understand such situations requires us to take a long hard look at the nature, function and purpose of leadership in contemporary society. It requires us to reappraise the common assumption that ‘leadership’ is all about ‘leaders’. Whilst analysis of the characteristics, qualities and actions of Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Gove, Farage, etc. will generate certain insights (probably reading like a Shakespearean drama) they offer little real understanding of the wider contextual factors that contribute towards and create such possibilities.

In his epic novel War and Peace, Tolstoy famously argued: “to study the laws of history we must completely change the subject of our observation, we must leave aside kings, ministers, and generals, and study the common, infinitesimally small elements by which the masses are moved”. Analysis of voter statistics for both the UK Referendum and the US Election demonstrate significant variations by demography – with outcomes in each case strongly influenced by the voting patterns of older voters and those living in more deprived areas[2].

To understand leadership we must also understand followership – not only the popular view of people who willingly ‘follow the leader’ but also reluctant followers and those who do not even consider themselves ‘followers’ at all. It is likely that many who voted for Trump and Brexit did not believe what they were being told from either side of the campaign but, with limited options and a genuine desire for change, did what they could to get their voices heard and to kick back against the establishment.

2016, more than ever, reminds us of the need to revisit our assumptions and to reconsider the extent to which current theories, practices and approaches enable individuals, groups, organisations and communities to develop and enact responsible and sustainable leadership. The inherently paradoxical nature of leadership, and the challenges and opportunities this poses, is the theme of our book Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world, which was shortlisted for the Leadership and Management textbook category of the CMI Management Book of the Year award. To find our more please visit the companion website

Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management, UWE, Bristol

Twitter: @bolden_richard; @lshipparadoxes

[1] The Leave campaign famously travelled the country in a bus sporting the slogan ‘We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead’ – both ‘facts’ that were widely understood to be incorrect and misleading, and which were dismissed out of hand in Nigel Farage’s first press interview following the referendum result.

[2] See, for example, the following analyses from the BBC: and

Tools for Change

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By Dr Fiona Spotswood

I’m never happier than wallowing in practice theory. I love grappling with the intricacies of the original thinkers in my field – Bourdieu, Schatzki, Giddens – and wading through their dense language, pondering the implications for my data of their carefully articulated thoughts. At present I’m working with data from depth interviews with Strava app users; amateur athletes who track and monitor their running and cycling data. I’m embedded in Foucauldian analyses of surveillance society, M-health studies and the affective detail of practice theoretical accounts.

But I’m also really interested in the implications of theoretically-driven academic research on behaviour change practice. I would not be satisfied if my leather arm-chair ponderings (see pic above!) about – and using – practice theory did not form part of a growing evidence base that has the power or potential to support a shift in the thinking of policymakers and practitioners of behaviour change. However, there is a significant problem with the impact that journal articles have on practice. Generally they don’t. Rather, translational work is required. This can be in the form of conference presentations, blogs and magazine publications, but a further very effective translational method is the ‘toolkit’.

Recently, I have been working with research and analysis consultant Andrew Darnton. He has been advising government departments and public bodies on behaviour change theory and practice for two decades. He is best described as a ‘knowledge broker’, attempting to translate complex academic theory and empirical studies into usable formats for policy and practice. He is the author of two particular ‘tools’ which I am using more and more. The first is ‘ISM’ (individual – social -material), which is a neat mechanism for practitioners and policy makers – who require no theoretical knowledge – to conceptualise and plan behaviour change interventions in a theoretically-underpinned way. The model forces the thinking-through of a behaviour change problem to take a practice-driven approach. It de-centres the individual, considers the materiality, temporality and sequencing, as well as socio-context that frames the performance of practice. It is fun to do, easily achievable and has produced a suite of demonstrable results across many areas, like the reduction of outdoor defecation in Brazil, reduced meat consumption or reduced teen drinking in Scotland.


The second model I’ve been working with, again one of Andrew’s, is ReValuation. As a practice theorist, I am so often asked how the theory has been or can be applied, and how to evaluate the impact of a practice-theoretical intervention. In truth, the evidence of practice-driven intervention design is thin on the ground, although a team at UWE and a team at Tatu University in Estonia are developing school culture-change programs to consider the implications of a practice-theoretical approach. One of the central problems of any practice-based approach to social change is evaluation. A linear model of behaviour change is inherently appealing to policy and practice because linearity can more easily be measured. An example is the BMI change in users of a self-monitoring health app. Rather, making subtle shifts across a complex system, like a primary school, might have deep-rooted effects that aren’t visible, or only manifest in the future, or have wholly unintended consequences.

ReValuation does not require its users to understand systems theory, practice theory, complexity theory or have any grasp on evaluation methodology or mechanisms for reporting and measurement. It simply allows for a range of indicators to be collaboratively identified which capture the full value of any intervention, and that can include ‘soft’ outcomes which are captured through story telling and anecdote. It also allows for hard stats to be ‘calculated’, and the potential future value of work to be captured. It speaks to the needs of multiple audiences.


I have been teaching these tools on the Behaviour Change module of UWE’s MSc Sustainable Development, and using them in some recent engagement work. It has been fun, and challenging, stepping away from the theory and allowing the tools to do the work. The enthusiasm with which public audiences have received these models has further emphasised the need for academic researchers to move beyond the peer reviewed journal article. With the Impact agenda this is already embedded in our academic worklife, but it has been nonetheless valuable for me to be reminded of the usefulness of translational tools, which make theory work for the right people in a pragmatic way.

Women, dress, leadership and the 1980s

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Br Dr Harriet Shortt

Hello everyone!

Well, it’s September already and the start of a fresh new term for many of us. I hope you have had a great summer of holidays, rest, writing, teaching, planning, thinking, conference inspiration and everything else in-between!

I thought I’d kick start the new academic year with some good news…and a tiny bit of self-promotion! There’s a great new book out: “Gender, Media, and Organization: Challenging Mis(s)Representations of Women Leaders and Managers”. It is currently available to order at, and will be available to order on all major online retailer sites throughout the world within the next 60 days. Please see documents attached (below) for more details…and feel free to share these with your networks.

I’m really proud to say that I have a chapter included in the book: Dress and the Female Professional: A Case Study of Working Woman with my lovely colleagues Ann Rippin, University of Bristol and Samantha Warren, Cardiff University. I’m also pleased to say that the chapter is based on the analysis of the 1980s Working Woman magazine; a set of magazines that my Mum, Lesley Shortt, had kept in her study since the invention of shoulder pads and passed on to me several years ago “just in case they were useful…”. So, thank you Mum, they were…and this is what we did with them…

Abstract: Women and their clothes have always been a serious matter (Hollander, 1993). Using a visual social semiotic approach (van Leeuwen, 2005), in this chapter we undertake a “rich viewing” of 1980s cultural texts to explore the performative heritage of gender through the adoption of clothes, make-up, and accessories. This is a timely investigation because today’s 40-something women leaders and managers were socialized into their understandings of being “professional” women as a result of the proliferation of print, TV, and film images in the 1980s (see for example, Baby Boom, 1987; Working Girl, 1988). Through these images, women were instructed in the arts of tackling men’s dominance in the workplace through the adoption of shoulder pads, “big hair,” and sharp suits. They are now playing out these roles as managers in an increasingly surveillance-oriented world due to the growth of the internet, social media, and readily available digital image technologies. These media enable a (damaging) hyper-visible and obsessive focus on women professionals’ appearance; for example, politicians in the press are assessed on their fashion sense before their ministerial skills and abilities (Greenslade, 2014). At the same time, self-help texts for female professionals continue to be full of advice stressing how women should look the part if they want to succeed (Kenny and Bell, 2011).

So, anyone interested in clothes, women, leadership and 1980s fashion…enjoy!


WomanandLeadershipcombo4Gender, Media and Organization




Organizing in the Borderlands

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An important part of the OS blog is to share short snippets and updates from our current research projects. Today, Dr Hugo Gaggiotti wanted to share his current collaborative British Academy project, titled ‘Organizing in the Borderlands’. A brief description of the project can be found below as well as a link to the blog associated with the project. There are also some great photos and videos to be found on the blog!

‘Organizing in the Borderlands’: The aim of the project is a) to consolidate UACJ and JEPGOR research capacity and b) to lead the development of a formal education programme, but the primary objective is to contribute to the promotion of socio-economic welfare in Chihuahua by transferring this knowledge as professional organizational practices that ultimately help to solve social and economic needs of families, children and youngsters in Ciudad Juárez (Mexico).

Vice- Chancellor’s Student Leadership Programme

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Vice- Chancellor’s Student Leadership Programme…thanks, Anita, for sharing this exciting news!…

We have been quietly excited by our pilot programme led from a team in the Bristol Business School to coach students, most from disadvantaged backgrounds in finding their leadership voice and developing their leadership skills whilst studying at UWE. A group of 7 students from across different disciplines including nursing, business studies and IT have helped us pilot a new programme being launched this coming September which will broaden this opportunity to some 40 second year students across the University. The programme includes action learning and a chance to gain a professionally recognised qualification (ILM L3) in leadership which counts towards the University’s award winning careers development Futures scheme.

As part of the action learning, our students have experienced a trip to the House of Lords to consider the role of political leadership, have joined in some of our Distinguished Executive Address seminars, and carried out a study trip to a poor rural school in Morogoro, Tanzania, the hometown of one of the student. The final piece de resistance has been the opportunity to meet with Masai community leader Emmanuel Mankura together with global business change agent Chris Howe, and Kenyan Masai expert Dr Mick Thompson, joining forces with the Team Entrepreneur students to consider the issues of wisdom in leadership and the learning that we in the West can gain from an indigenous community based in Kenya and Tanzania.

In the picture above, in order from the left, students Colin Harvey, Julie Pei, team coach member Professor Gareth Edwards, Masai leader Emmanuel Mankura, student Bilal Bukhari, Masai expert Dr Mick Thompson, student Rytis Cikeliovas, Bristol Leadership Programme founder Tracie Joliff and international consultant and change maker Chris Howe. And in the picture below is our fabulous team coach member Emir Kullar looking good in her African tiara and carrying her Masai leadership stick as a gift from the  lovely Emmanuel: she wore the tiara all day and who can blame her!anita 2

Now as a result of all this extra curricula stimulation, the VCSL students have decided with support from our team to design and deliver a Masterclass aimed at business leaders through their growing networks from the programme to raise money for the school they have visited in rural Tanzania. The invitation (attached – see final link at the bottom of this post) includes a 3 course dinner at Bristol Zoo, free access to the gardens with a Masterclass from Chris Howe. Please book your tickets now via the link provided in the flyer for a very special evening on the 20th June – we hope to sell out!

And you can see pictures of the students’ research visit to Tanzania here:

The students hope to build a legacy through establishing a charity and engaging with the new recruits. In doing so they are learning a great deal about the challenges of leadership! They are being mentored in the process by Chris Howe and Dr Mick Thompson.

You can find out more about the Vice-Chancellor’s forthcoming Student Leadership Programme here at

or for further information contact Anita Gulati or our administrator Simon Leake

vc lship final ticketag5

Great news for OS scholars at UWE – BAM awards Researcher Development Grant!

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Press release:

The University of the West of England is pleased to announce that Eda Ulus and Inge Aben have been awarded a Researcher Development Grant from the  British Academy of Management.(BAM). BAM launched the Researcher Development Grants Scheme in 2013 with the aim of encouraging and supporting research activities, in order to advance management scholarship through empirical research. Visit BAM for more information.

Out of the 125 applications for this grant, the project by Eda Ulus and Inge Aben, titled “Silence is Golden: Learning from Introversion to Broaden Teaching and Learning Experiences in Management and Business”, was one of the 13 projects that were selected. Their project will explore individual experiences of introversion in higher education. The results will be analysed to develop themes for teaching pedagogy and management practice. For impact, the results will be shared in reports with educators and practitioners, and published in academic journals.  This is an exciting time for the University and for Eda Ulus and Inge Aben who are passionate about exploring introversion in a variety of learning and management contexts.  As one of the reviewers for this grant noted, there is a “timely need to explore the extent to which extraversion is emphasised at the expense of introversion.”

Eda Ulus is a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE Bristol.  Her research interests include introversion, the experience of experiential learning, workplace emotions, psychoanalytic approaches, narratives, embodiment, and social justice.  Her past organisational experiences include Assistant Director of an International Student Office, Academic Counsellor, Researcher for a hospital and psychology departments, and tutor and advisor for undergraduate students in the US, Turkey, and the UK.

Inge Aben is a Lecturer in Organisation Studies in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE Bristol and is a project manager for the Institute of Leadership and Management professional qualifications, including the Executive Coaching and Leadership Mentoring course.  She runs her own coaching, training and teaching consultancy and has years of experience supporting the development of communities, businesses and individuals in Europe and Africa. Her research interests include introversion, coaching, facilitation and work-based learning in leadership and community development.

For more details:

Congratulations Eda and Inge!


Spirituality in a Challenging World

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Hi all,

Please see the link below for more information on a conference being held by the British Association for the Study of Spirituality at Ashridge on May 19-21 on Spirituality in a Challenging World.

The conference includes keynote addresses and parallel-session papers on both religious and secular concepts of spirituality as well as its role in organizational practices, health and well-being, and leadership.

10th European Conference on Management Leadership and Governance

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This is a second call for papers for the 10th European Conference on Management Leadership and Governance ECMLG – 2014 being held at VERN’ University of Applied Sciences, Zagreb, Republic of Croatia on the 13-14 November 2014.

This call will close on 24th of April 2014.

The Conference offers an opportunity for scholars and practitioners interested in the issues related to Management, Leadership, and Governance to share their thinking and research findings. These fields of study are broadly described as including issues related to the management of the organisations’ resources, the interface between senior management and the formal governance of the organisation. This Conference provides a forum for discussion, collaboration and intellectual exchange for all those interested in any of these fields of research or practice.

We invite contributions for academic research, case studies and work-in-progress/posters are welcomed approaches. PhD Research, proposals for roundtable discussions, non-academic contributions and product demonstrations based on the main themes are also invited. A prize will be awarded to the best PhD paper and the best Poster.

In addition to the main conference topics the advisory group invites submissions to the following mini tracks:

Publication opportunity

Papers accepted for the conference will be published in the conference proceedings, subject to author registration and payment. ECMLG proceedings are published with an ISBN and ISSN and are submitted to Thomson ISI World of Science, Scopus, Google and a number of other citation organisations for indexing.

For more information, please go to:

Follow the conference on LinkedIn   Facebook and Twitter

A warm welcome to new colleagues in the Organisation Studies team, here at UWE…

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The Organisation Studies team here at UWE is growing and we have quite a number of exciting new appointments!

We welcome Neil Sutherland, who joins us as a Lecturer in Organisation Studies. Neil has taught and studied at the University of Essex for the past six years, working on his PhD thesis, titled: ‘In search of leadership: an ethnography of meaning making in leaderless organisations’. In this research, ‘leadership’ is reconceptualised as a collective and relational socially constructed process; as something that can exist in the absence of individual leaders. He is especially interested in exploring democratic organisational and decision-making practices, and the ways in which they facilitate distributed and non-hierarchical forms of organisation.

We welcome Elton Xhetani, who also joins us as a Lecturer in Organisation Studies. Elton has been at the University of Warwick for the past 3 years, working on his PhD thesis entitled: How does organisational architecture affect teachers’ professional identity? A comparative case study based on Sixth Form Colleges.

We welcome Dr Roz Gasper. Roz was previously at the University of Glamorgan (now University of South Wales) teaching OS, management of change, some leadership and HR.  She recently completed a doctorate with Cardiff University looking at collaborative working and the citizen-led agenda with a focus on power relations, identities and critical discourse approaches.  One of her priorities is to publish and to get involved in coaching and mentoring and some of our exciting new approaches to facilitating learning.

We welcome Inge Aben. Inge is a trainer, coach and consultant with expertise in management, leadership and enterprise development in various sectors and countries. She will be focussing on our ILM provision in Coaching and Mentoring and Leadership and Management level 5 and level 7 alongside teaching and developing some of our MSc Leadership and Management postgraduate modules.

We welcome Emir Kullar. Emir is an experienced coach and development consultant and will be working on Organisational Analysis and ILM level 3 undergraduate development focusing on the graduate futures award, certificates in coaching and leadership & management. Emir is also involved as a team coach in the new Team Entrepreneurship programme working with 38 very motivated and inspirational first years. The teampreneurs will be setting up their own companies this term and are already engaged in a number of projects with Bristol businesses. Having just returned from a team building exercise with them Emir has been struck by just how much they have learned in the last four weeks and how engaged they are with the programme. It has been fascinating to be so close to the group as they come together as teams, work on forming their own identity and start to take responsibility for their own learning. Those interested in studying leadership, identity, space, self-development and reflective practice would have a field-day!

We welcome Conroy Grizzle, who is also an experienced Learning & Development Consultant, who will be teaching on a cross-section of modules and exploring opportunities for research on Race, diversity and management.

And last, but by no means least, we are delighted to welcome Professor Peter Case back to the Business School. Peter has spent the last two years at James Cook University (JCU) in Queensland, Australia. Peter will be retaining a 0.2 FTE position at JCU in order to continue working on rural development and conservation projects that he’s running in Southeast Asia and Solomons. He returns to UWE on a 0.8 basis as professor of organization studies and is looking forward to working with colleagues here, both old and new!